Justin Masterson, the last Indians player without a finalized contract for 2014, just settled on a one-year deal with the Tribe to avoid arbitration. As I mentioned before, Masterson requested a $11.8 million salary for this season, while the Indians countered with an $8.05 million offer. Reportedly, the deal is for $9.7625 million – just under the halfway mark between the two figures ($9.925 million). Any time you can avoid a contentious arbitration hearing, especially one where a player has to leave spring training and fly to said hearing, I’d mark it down as a victory. Coming to an agreement that seems fair to both sides is just icing on the cake.
As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, Masterson is a free agent after the 2014 season. While the Indians supposedly discussed a more long term deal with the right hander this offseason, the talks were eventually tabled without an agreement. While Masterson did eventually back off of his more pricey 2014 salary request, it remains to be seen whether or not he’d be willing to stay in Cleveland for a more long-term discount. (If I were a betting woman, I’d go with “no discounts”).
Throughout much of the offseason, teams were in a holding pattern waiting to see what happened with Masahiro Tanaka. He was this offseason’s “golden goose” as far as pitchers go, and teams went hard for him before they would consider settling for a consolation prize in the form of Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. Jimenez finally has a home with the Orioles, while Santana is still waiting for a team with the first spring training game just over a week away. I thought the pieces would fall into place a bit faster after the Yankees nabbed Tanaka, but it seems as if teams were waiting for prices to drop. (Baltimore tried to ink Jimenez to a three year deal, before finally relenting on the fourth year).
Could Jimenez create his own mini-domino effect? Perhaps. Not necessarily with Santana, whose agent is trying to hold out for a comparable fourth year to any deal (which is nuts when you consider he originally thought he could get upwards of $100 million for the pitcher at the beginning of the offseason). The Orioles went from a quiet offseason, to actually having a few too many starters. I know the mantra typically goes “you can never have enough pitching” but you can face issues when too many of these pitchers are out of options.
Obviously Jimenez is guaranteed a spot in the rotation – you don’t hand out your longest ever deal for a starting pitcher (4 years/$50 million) and make him earn a spot in the rotation. Even if “bad Ubaldo” makes a reappearance, he’s not going anywhere. As Britt Ghiroli from MLB.com points out, spots are all but guaranteed (outside of an injury) for Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Miguel Gonzalez. So that leaves one spot left in the rotation, which could go to Bud Norris (acquired from Houston via trade last season), LHP Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, highly-touted rookie Kevin Gausman, and Suk-min Yoon, recently signed out of Korea.
Gausman can easily start the season at Triple-A Norfolk; in fact, one could make the argument that he needs a bit more seasoning in the minors anyway. Yoon could also start the season in Norfolk without penalty. However, Norris, Britton, and Matusz are all out of options, but could move to the bullpen. In December, Howard Bender at Fangraphs even theorized whether or not Norris could be the next closer for the Orioles. With Jim Johnson gone, and Grant Balfour’s aborted signing after a failed physical, the Orioles need someone for the ninth inning. Even if good Ubaldo is around this year, he tends to throw a lot of pitches; this often facilitated his exit around the fifth or sixth inning, even if he was pitching well. Perhaps the Orioles would feel more comfortable with a couple of long guys in their bullpen.
They could also look to trade one of Norris, Britton, or Matusz. The Indians were supposedly one of the teams really interested in Norris at the trade deadline last year, drawn by the fact that he was under team control through the 2015 season. Even though he was the highest paid player with the Astros last season, Norris made just $3 million; he negotiated a $5.3 million salary with the Orioles for 2014. Norris is not a spectacular pitcher, but would be serviceable at the back-end of a rotation and comes at a good price. The same could be said for Britton and Matusz.
Am I sitting around, clutching a lucky rabbit’s foot and wishing upon wishes that the Indians make a deal for one of these three? Not necessarily. But I’d be lying if I said the old “you can never have enough pitching” saying hasn’t been rattling around in my brain this winter. Having too many options, as the Orioles are suddenly aware, is never a bad thing.